Downsizing and Real Estate

8/4/2022 | By Beth Kuberka

Two retirees saw the need to help baby boomers moving to a new home with the downsizing process. These women have now been running estate sales for 16 years and have advice for others in this stage of life.

With 10 million Americans reaching retirement age every year, downsizing is on the rise. But for most adults who have spent decades collecting their belongings, what to get rid of, and what to do with it, can be a daunting task. That’s where a giant need turned into a retirement side hustle for two Tennessee retirees.

Ginny Ranck and Kay Wright started running estate sales in Tellico Village in 2006. The active 55+ community is a hot spot for retirees (or soon-to-be retirees) to move for their next chapter. There are also frequent villagers looking to downsize once their 3+-bedroom house starts to feel too big. That’s where Ginny and Kay come in.

Benefits of estate sales, for sellers and buyers

Many people looking to move, don’t know what to do with all their stuff. And for many older adults, the process of downsizing can be emotional. Often baby boomers are forced to downsize after the loss of a spouse, medical setback, or just because they are no longer able to keep up with a larger home. It’s a hard reality to face. And it’s made even more emotional by having to part ways with the things that you have taken pride in your entire life.

silver service items laid out on a table in a house ready for an estate sale. Retirees downsizing and moving often need help, so these women started running estate sales. They have advice for boomers of retirement age.

Whereas past generations have passed on family heirlooms to their children, millennials notoriously don’t want their parents’ stuff. So where does it all go? Estate sales have become popular and necessary for downsizing baby boomers. They serve two great purposes: They help downsizing boomers get rid of tons of stuff without giving it all away, but they also help folks who may be relocating from across the country furnish and stock a new house.

Tennessee is one of the most moved-to states in the country, according to Uhaul’s annual migration report, which ranked Tennessee third in 2021 and first in 2020. Kay Wright not only runs the estate sale business, but also works at Tellico Village and says people are moving to the village in droves from places like New York, California, Illinois, New Hampshire and Delaware, escaping harsh weather and high taxes. But when they move cross-country, they often leave as much as they can behind so they can travel tight and light. Pulling into town and hitting up an estate sale is a great way to furnish a new home.

Ginny and Kay, along with their husbands, saw this as a great need for their neighbors as baby boomers and started their estate sale business as a service and ministry to the community. They do about two sales a month and have learned a lot along the way. 

Advice for anyone considering an estate sale

  • Book early. Ginny and Kay are booked out well in advance and hate having to tell people they just don’t have the time to help. As soon as you start thinking about getting your house on the market, call a downsizing or estate sale company. It takes two-and-a-half weeks to set up the sale. 
  • Have the family come to pick out what they want first.
  • Don’t pack up.
  • Don’t throw anything away. Sometimes the things you think are junk are the first to sell.
  • Make sure the realtor is in the loop and on board so that they aren’t trying to schedule showings during the sale.

What to expect

Once you hire your estate sale team, they’ll come in to assess the situation. They first look across the house to make sure there’s enough for an estate sale. If not, they just put a few things online or suggest donating. Then they handle the actual commission of the sale. They promote the sale to make sure people in the area know when and where it’s happening. They research and price all of the items, clean up, set up with tables and tablecloths, run the actual sale, and clean up afterwards.

Ginny and Kay have gotten good at pricing items from years of experience. They enlist the help of their husbands for the garage and basement items, and if something is unique, they’ll call in an expert.

Hot sale items

  • Furniture: people are moving from across the country and looking to furnish their spaces. They travel light to eliminate weight & miles.
  • China, silverware and crystal
  • Antique linens
  • Everyday items: spices, towels, lawn tools and chemicals, life jackets, beach chairs

Ginny and Kay say those everyday items are really what sustain the business. Though there are area antiquers or collectors who frequent estate sales, most of the business is from retirees moving to the area who need the necessities. So never throw away those spices, nonperishable food items, or your lawn equipment.

Related: More advice on downsizing and planning an estate sale 

They’ve also come across some unique items over the years like souvenirs from foreign travels, rare coins and stamp collections, vintage records, and engagement rings. They usually do not sell these items unless the homeowner is absolutely sure that’s what they want to do. The most unique item they’ve ever come across? Gold teeth!

Though they do charge a commission for their services, Ginny and Kay say they don’t do it for the money. “If that were the case, we wouldn’t be doing it,” said Kay laughing. It’s not worth quitting your day job unless you’re planning to hire a large staff and host only large estate sales at a higher volume. They say if this is a field you’re interested in getting into, do your homework. It takes a lot of work, and much of the work is physical.

Ginny and Kay say they saw a need among retirees in their community, and this is their way of filling that need. The work is rewarding and fulfilling. They understand that it can be an emotional process for people to move and sell their belongings, so they see their service as more than just a sale, it’s a commitment to helping someone. They’ve made friends along the way, and most of their customer base was developed by word-of-mouth. They’re very proud of the work they are doing to help others and the community they’ve grown doing it.

Beth Kuberka

Beth Kuberka is the marketing director of Tellico Village, a planned 55+ community in Tennessee. She oversees all communications, marketing, sales and first impression initiatives for the village. She has nearly 20 years of experience in planned senior community marketing. She spent 8 years at Rarity Bay, working her way up to marketing director before joining Tellico Village in 2012. Kuberka has extensive knowledge of the workings of senior living communities. She has developed several programs, and currently manages an alliance of 88 village-based businesses. She earned a Bachelor in Informational Science from the University of Tennessee in 2004 with a focus on advertising and business marketing.